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4 February 2021

Some of you will have wondered where we have got to – no emails, no posting on Twitter or Instagram, and really apart from the Post every weekday, where are we?

The answer is, twofold: a)  being busy. Our friends and colleagues at Cambridge Imprint (here is the Persephone paper in one of its glorious colourways)

wrote on their blog here: ‘We are humbly aware of the randomness of the forces that happen to have kept us afloat this year where others have struggled or gone under: the very strong element of luck.’ This is exactly how we feel: it is just luck that seventy per cent of our business is mail order (twenty per cent is through bookshops who order from Central Books, our distributor, and ten per cent is/was from customers in the shop). In that respect Persephone Books might have been designed for a lockdown.

And yet, as you know from previous Letters, and as you can imagine, it has not been easy. We have managed to avoid the perilous situation of last June when we had 600 backed-up orders. But we are still not as speedy as we used to be and definitely not as speedy as the huge online traders (especially the one beginning with A that we do not mention). This is because there is only one person in the shop at a time –  Lydia, Emily or Sophie – and each of us tries to ‘fulfil’ orders that come in to the website, send out ‘subs’ (people who have a subscription of a book a month for six or twelve months) and answer emails (250 on a Monday) on every variety of subjects, ranging from querying the non-arrival of a book to suggesting a title to reprint to flagging up an instance of something politically incorrect to, heartwarmingly, simply telling us that what we do is appreciated.

And what about b)? Well this is to do with the peculiar life we are all leading at the moment. and the fact that most of us have had the stuffing knocked out of us. And that everybody in Britain is mourning the shattering figure of one hundred thousand deaths due to Covid. Of course we are very pleased and proud still to have a business, but we are simply not our normal cheery selves. But who is?  Also we don’t want to ‘go on and on’, but the fact is we are still in mourning about Brexit; we had not exactly realised we were in mourning until someone – a sensitive and kind proofreader – pointed this out. But it’s true. We noticed that Miranda Hart took a week off work to mourn her  beloved dog Peggy; we need several weeks off to mourn our being severed from Europe. Apologies by the way for these sentiments, which will annoy some people a great deal (and they will certainly write to us to say so) but please don’t tell us to get over it. We cannot. 

Anyway, this has been a long-winded way of explaining why we shall not be publishing two new books in April. But feeling low is not reason enough for postponing them till October. The main reason is this extremely-hard-to-cope-with situation of having one person in the shop at a time. It would only need one of us to be ill and we would be sunk. Certainly we would not be able to send out the orders that flood in after a new Biannually is sent out. Why not hire more staff you ask? Well, that is difficult too because what we always do is ask people to come for a couple of days work experience, then if they like us and we like them we ask them to stay on. But one cannot do that in the time of Covid. 

However, judging by the last few weeks, the months until October will flash past and then there will again be two new Persephone books and maybe, just maybe, life will go on as normal. And there are, after all, 139 titles to keep people going. 

So what has been happening apart from the difficulties of lockdown? Well, we are still ‘improving’ and tidying up the website after we ‘migrated’ to a new ‘platform’ last July. We are doing the royalty statements (the author’s agent or their family receive their 25% of receipts but working out what they are owed is a time-consuming, fiddly yet essential  task – because without them we would have no books to publish). And, like everyone else, we continue to cook nourishing food, walk the dog, watch a bit of telly and seek out the first snowdrops. 

Since the last Letter, the Boston Atheneum very kindly hosted an interview about Persephone Books here and Emily Rhodes has a rather special video about The World that was Ours on which we made a guest appearance here. This discussion was part of the Daunt Books Walking Book Club, it's  online at the moment, details here.

We love Patricia McConnell’s blog here  – it will probably be appreciated most by dog owners but even people who don't have a dog will like it; Liss Llewellyn have fifteen marvellous paintings for sale, we have five of them on the Post this week;

life has become much poorer now the fourth and last series of Call my Agent has finished; but we adored The Dig (people who have seen it will smile at Lucy Worsley saying ‘Every small domestic announcement in our house is now prefaced by “I think you’ll want to come see this, Mrs Pretty”');  and now we are in the middle of the slightly feeble but very watchable  soap called Grace and Frankie, not a patch on Anne with an E but it makes the dark evenings less bleak. It is quite funny and Jane Fonda is a phenomenon. Oh and The Archers is back.

A few weeks ago the designer and art director Pauline Baines died. Her obituary is here. Now, although we don’t madly like the work of Erno Goldfinger, it’s absolutely fascinating that sixty-five years ago she and her husband and a group of friends asked him to design a four-storey block of flats in North London and that Pauline went on living there until she died aged 103.

And vis a vis architecture, there was an excellent and deeply sobering article in the Guardian about the disaster that is Nine Elms in London: the buildings that tower over the Thames were built with no thought for aesthetic principles but simply to make money for the developers, and now, after the vast changes that Brexit and Covid are going to bring, will remain empty for decades and decades. This is the weirdest and most upsetting thing – a  swimming pool suspended between two buildings but only the super-rich can use it so that most of the people living in the flats suspending it can only look at it. This is appalling!

Do read this Economist obituary (the Economist obituaries are always genius, imagine having the wit to link these two deaths): it's jointly about Katherine Whitehorn and Mahinder Watsa, a Bombay doctor who also gave it to people straight. ‘Both she and he cut through the confusion (of their readers] with a strong sense of mission. Ms Whitehorn was the first columnist in Britain to give a voice to ordinary, non-decorative, muddling-through women’ while Dr Watsa talked plainly and naturally to Indians about sex. ‘Like a giant sigh “It’s Normal” was the title of his collected columns.’ ‘The numbers of people they had braced with confidence were legion, and occasionally their advice was similar. To a woman worried about not being a virgin on her wedding night, Dr Watsa wrote, “Don’t worry, your husband won’t notice.” While to a young bedsitter hostess, cooking for a man, Ms Whitehorn breezed: “Don’t apologise, and NEVER ask, ‘Is it all right?’”’

A wildflower meadow can be incredibly cheering and transformative.

Or fantasise about planting a small forest which is what they are going to do all over Bristol. But even for people living in a flat thoughts of gardening are uplifting.These are the shrubs that Robin Lane-Fox recommended as essential: magnolia, viburnum, lilac, philadelphus, mahonia and ribes. He also chose buddleia but many (ourselves included) think this is something of a pest. Substitute ceanothus or deutzia or forsythia. But above all substitute daphne. Ours is newly in blossom (it waits till February). In the old days we would have taken a stem to the shop and it would have filled the air with its marvellous sweet scent. Hey ho.


Nicola Beauman

as from 59 Lambs Conduit Street

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